Remembering Psychotherapy’s Mark Twain

Who of us couldn’t use some more inspiration, an occasional reminder of truths that get obscured in day-to-day life, or maybe even some telling observations that make us laugh out loud? That’s why so many therapists have made attending the Networker Symposium an annual ritual. But whether you can make it to this year’s tribal gathering or not, we’ve decided to periodically offer some video-snapshots that bring to life the kind of experience that makes certain Symposium moments so unforgettable.

Included here is a video excerpt of a keynote delivered some years ago by Frank Pittman, who for 26 years was the Networker’s indefatigable, encyclopedically knowledgeable, quick-witted, and eternally opinionated movie reviewer. Frank died just after Thanksgiving, following a long, difficult illness. We’ll have a lot more to say about his contributions to the magazine and the field in the March/April issue of the Networker.

Frank pulled no punches in his life, practice, books, or the articles and presentations he contributed to the Networker. A born storyteller, his impish grin, folksy Southern accent, and comic gift made him something like therapy’s answer to Mark Twain. And like Twain, he was a deeply serious moral critic.

At a time when paeans to New Age “self-actualization” were encouraging adults to act like self-centered adolescents, Frank insisted that a measure of grown-up selflessness was in order. No friend of therapeutic “neutrality,” he thought qualities like responsibility, duty, self-control, and self-sacrifice should be honored and even encouraged by therapists, particularly when he saw children suffering because of the feckless behavior of their parents. That he was funny enough to make you laugh as he was giving one of his entertaining—but pointed—jeremiads was one of his great talents.

Here’s a typically bravura Frank performance, assisted—as he often was—by a perfectly selected movie clip:

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